Posts Tagged DIY

Living in a Shed? An In Depth Guide To Turning A Shed Into A Tiny Home

Living in a Shed? An In Depth Guide To Turning A Shed Into A Tiny Home

how to live in a shed

When it comes to Tiny Houses, they come in all shapes and sizes. Many people have asked me about building a tiny house shed as an affordable option to having your own tiny house.

A tiny house

I think what’s important to keep in mind is that tiny houses have made a name for themselves because they’re willing to break the mold. Diversity of what Tiny is, is in itself, part of what makes it so fascinating to me. As people take these ideals, we share in the Tiny House Movement and manifest itself in so many forms, we find creative ways to live in small homes.

With that said, using a shed as the shell for your tiny house is a great way to get things started. I myself have considered is a prefab shed and today I was able to go see a model that I have been toying with the idea of purchasing and putting in the middle of a plot of land.

Can You Legally Live In A Shed?

get your permits

Like Tiny Homes, making this legal and meeting building codes is rather difficult when you say you want to live or dwell in it. One big advantage of the prefab shed option is that these structures are so prevalent that in many places you can just drop one off and you’re good. Some places require a permit, but it’s a formality more than anything, city hall needs to get it’s slice anyway they can.

These sheds will almost always pass code if you’re using it for storage. That means the shed would officially would have to be just a shed. It can a bit more complicated when you are not placing the shed behind a primary dwelling. This is where I find myself.

The real lynch pin when it comes to living in a shed legally if you want to connect sewer, water and power.

Connecting Water To Your Shed

water connection for a shed

Fortunately, you can get water to most properties without much hassle. Of the three main utilities, water is the simplest because it’s not terribly complicated or pose much risks. I did this on my current property in the mountains where I got a well and where my tiny house is in the city, I was able to connect to the city water for “landscaping” with zero issue.

You just pony up the cash for the permits and the install, run it to a frost proof hydrant (again saying it’s for landscaping) and get your inspections if needed. Once the inspectors are done with their checks and you have all your documents in hand, drop your shed, and connect it off the books.

NOTE: Because water is so easy to get, you can get it and the bill will provide “proof of residence” for other things like the DMV, getting a post office box etc.

Connecting Power To Your Shed

electrical hook up to shed

Getting electricity in your shed is slightly trickier because this is the part where code officials start to get warry you’re planning on living in the shed. That said, it’s not uncommon to want to have power in a shed for tools etc. What I suggest you do is get your water installed on the land so it’s about 20 feet into the property, wait a few weeks while you get your shed pad graded and shed dropped off.

Now next is what I’d do, but realize I’m not responsible for any consequence if you do this. Once the shed is dropped off, stage the inside with a few shed-like items: A lawn mower, a table top on some saw horses, a few tools scatted on top. Make it look like this is a real shed used for actual storage. That way when the electrician comes to install and the inspector does their inspection, it looks like your using it as a storage shed.

You’re most likely only going to get approved for a 50 or 100 amp service compared to a normal home is usually 200-amp service. That should be totally fine for your needs in such a small space.

Connecting Sewer To Your Shed

sewer connection

Here is the biggest hurtle and frankly I’ll be honest and say you’re not going to get any code official to let you install a flush toilet in a shed unless it’s totally above board and designated as a dwelling. I don’t mind using a composting toilet, but having water and power is a must.

For toilet you could use a composting toilet, you could use a porta potty service, or you could consider getting a septic system installed (if it’s possible). Septic systems will start to get people asking questions if they see a septic installed, a water line run to the property and power run to a “shed”. It won’t take much for anyone looking at your property or reviewing parcel tax and permit records to put two and two together.

Can You Live In A Shed?

can you live in a shed

When I was talking with the sales person at the shed store, she told me that they have had several customers live in these sheds. They call these buildings “sheds” loosely, with models up to 1000+ square feet. He had an entire wall of photos where people had converted a shed into a house, upfitting the outside with porches, accents, etc.

Why Should You Live In A Shed?

why you should live in a shed

Living in a shed comes with a lot of advantages, between their wide spread availability, cost and ease to obtain.

Easily Permittable

The ease of getting them legitimized is the biggest appeal to me. There aren’t many things these days that are easier to do, in many cases you can just drop them on your property and be done. Often municipalities have rules like “if the structure is not a dwelling and no dimension is greater than 12 feet, no permit is required”.

Very Affordable

The model I show here is 192 Square Feet. Included are the windows, doors, installations, taxes, anchoring, site leveling and delivery all for the price of $4,200! Figure adding in permits, running power, insulation and drywall (doing the work myself of course) I am looking at a sweet house for around $6,000. You could then deck it out with Ikea swag for another $500 and have a really nice place! The only drawback is there is no loft for a bed, so you have to deal with that. Possibly you could use a murphy bed.

Another angle to this is they offer payment plans of $70 a month, makes it pretty affordable, considering I have friends that pay over $1500 a month in rent.

Easily Transportable

The other advantage to these houses is that you can move them! Not as easily as a house on a trailer, but it’s possible. This is because they deliver these sheds on flat beds or even tow trucks sometimes. They even have these little crawler machines to maneuver the shed into place where a truck might not be able to get into tight back yards.

Widely Available

Unlike tiny houses where the closest builder might several states away, there is probably several shed sellers in your city. These sheds are everywhere it seems, so getting a shed is pretty simple and you can even price shop between them.

How To Convert A Shed Into A Tiny House

how to convert shed into living space

Once you buy a shed, you’re first going to want to get all your utilities to the site and setup before you do anything. Get your water, power and sewer squared away, get your copies of all the approvals, then wait a few weeks. I’ve found that sometimes there are a few little loose ends that need to happen and you don’t want an inspector around while you convert your house.

1
Set A Level Pad And Grade For Drainage
Before the shed even gets delivered, I’d suggest at the very least scraping the grass away and putting down 4-6 inches of ¾” gravel. Consider burying your water and sewer connections at this point and hide the ends so the inspector doesn’t ask questions. Have the gravel base extend in all directions about 1-2 feet beyond the footprint of the shed. Make sure the space is totally level and compact the base with a plate compactor.While you’re at it, consider how the water will flow around the shed, put in French drains if any slopes will push water towards it. Also consider where the water will flow off the roof if you have gutters, consider trenching a drain pipe to flush water away from the shed.
2
Make Utility Connections To Your Shed
Once the shed is delivered on the pad you created, the inspector has come and gone, then bring your connections from wherever they are to the shed and inside. If you pre-buried your connections, uncover the connection points, and connect them. Test everything before you close up the walls.
3
Deal With Moisture On The Bottom Of The Shed
If there is one thing I don’t like about these sheds is they use OSB or similar products, which just don’t stand up well to moisture. If you have the option, I’d pay extra for plywood and make sure it is treated. The underside of the floor where it faces the ground is a place that moisture can build up and bugs can eat into.I suggest that you have you shed on blocks just high enough for you to crawl under so you can access things easier. This is even the case if you don’t need to use blocks for leveling. Having access and air flow is really great and super important to keep your floor dry and rot free. I’d also apply a thick coat of exterior deck oil based paint to the underside of the shed to seal the wood from moisture.
4
Adjust Your Shed Framing
In many cases shed builders use a smaller dimension framing than traditional 2×4’s. If you can, request your shed to be done with 2×4’s so all your building materials will work (insulation, electrical boxes, etc which are all sized for 2×4 cavities).If your walls aren’t framed with 2×4’s then you might have to figure out alternatives to every other step coming up because all building materials are sized to accommodate a 2×4 wall. You also are going to want a deeper cavity to insulate, a 1×3 wall like some sheds are will end up being a very cold home.If you can’t order the shed to have 2×4’s then you’ll need to build the wall inwards, if you go through that trouble consider getting a slightly larger shed and then you might as well go for thicker walls for more insulation.
5
Rough In Your Electrical, Water and HVAC
Next put in your electrical lines, water lines, internet connections, any HVAC needs etc. I’d also consider putting outlets and lights on the outside of the shed too.If there is one thing I’ve learned about outlets is that it’s hard to over do outlets. Because it’s a small space, you want outlets right where you need them. Consider everything you’ll be plugging in and put outlets there. Additionally, if there is any runs of wall more than 5 feet with no outlets, just put one there. Outlets are $1.50 for a box and another $2 for the receptacle itself, these are super cheap so don’t skimp here.
TIP: I’d also suggest taking a video and photos of the walls so you can remember where things are in the future if you need to fix something.
6
Seal Up Every Little Crack
If there is one thing I’ve learned about these sheds is they aren’t very air tight and because of that, bugs can get in too. The space where the roof meets the top of the wall and around the soffit/facia is usually so poorly done you can see day light!I’d start with sealing everything with a good silicone caulk. Follow all the junctions, seams, and transition points. First seal from the outside, then seal again from the inside. I’d also caulk where the walls meet the floor, the corners and inside the framing where the studs meet the sheathing. This will seem excessive to many, but a shed is so small that it will take a few hours to totally seal it up tight.Once you have that done, I’d move to spray can foam and fill in any hard to reach gaps. I’d also fill places you’re not going to be able to insulate easily and I’d go over any seams to safe guard from any leaks. Again, this is considered overboard by many, but a few hours and $50 of prevention will pay dividends, keep air and water out and the bugs at bay.
Note: You should make provision for fresh air exchange and humidity control. When you seal up the space and live in such a small space you need to take air quality seriously. I’d suggest having a mini split system that does heating and cooling (where it dehumidifies too) AND an Energy Recovery Ventilation unit (ERV). The ERV will take your indoor air, heat or cool the incoming air through an exchange, then adjust humidity levels too. The ERV will cycle your air so the indoor air is always fresh and the correct humidity.
7
Insulate Your Shed Walls And Ceiling
You have two main options for insulation spray foam or bat insulation. Bat insulation is a good option, easy to install and not that expensive. You an get bats that are sized right for your wall cavities to minimize the amount of cutting you need to do.The other option, and the one that I’d recommend, is closed cell spray foam. I specifically suggest closed cell spray foam because it is also a great vapor and air barrier. Spray foam is also a very high R value so you’ll keep your house hot or cold longer with the same amount of wall thickness.Many people will suggest open foam because it’s cheaper or some make the argument it’s easier to find the leak if a leak occurs. Because the shed is a small space, it will be more expensive, but since it’s small, you might only be talking a few extra hundred-dollar difference. The notion that you can spot leaks easier is something I flat out reject, you just bought a brand new shed and spend a few hours sealing everything, it’s not going leak any time soon and if it does, the closed cell foam adheres to the back of the roof decking, minimalizing the spread of any leaks. Open cell will allow the water to flow through it and into your wall cavity leading to mold.
8
Insulate Your Shed Floors
You want to insulate your shed floor or else you’ll have a condensing surface and your feet will be cold on the floors. You can do this by insulating under the floor on the bottom of the shed or laying foamboard on the floor and putting a new layer of plywood on top.If it was me, I’d do both. I’d order a shed that had a taller wall and then spray closed cell foam on the underside, then lay down 2 inches of polyiso foam with a compatible adhesive, then lay down a thick plywood subfloor on top of it, again with adhesive.The two downsides to laying in the foam on the sides is that you’re building into the space, reducing your overhead height (hence why getting a taller wall option on your shed is a good idea) and also your front transition of your front door will be a little weird, so you’ll need to work that out. Both are solvable problems and warm floors are a must have in my book.
Tip: If you do build up into the space by laying down foam, consider doing an in floor radiant heat!
9
Drywall, Floors And Trim
Next I’d suggest finishing with dry wall because it’s cheap. You want to make sure you are sealing all the joints and transitions of the dry wall for air tightness. This is because if you make this air tight, no water vapor can enter the wall cavity and hit a cold surface to condense, build up moisture and cause mold. This article on the proper way to air seal drywall is a great resource for this.[https://www.buildingscience.com/documents/information-sheets/air-barriers-airtight-drywall-approach]Once you’ve put up your drywall, spackled and sanded your joints, go ahead and trim out your doors and windows, then paint the whole thing. Install your floors at this point, then add your baseboards to hide the rough edges of the floors.
10
Final Finishing
At this point I’d drop in my cabinets, counters and other finishes. Consider using off the shelf premade things that are pretty affordable and make it easy. Your local big box store or Ikea will have good options for this. Bring in your appliances, add your lighting fixtures to the roughed in boxes etc. There you have it, you’ve converted a shed to a tiny house!

At this point I’d drop in my cabinets, counters and other finishes. Consider using off the shelf premade things that are pretty affordable and make it easy. Your local big box store or Ikea will have good options for this. Bring in your appliances, add your lighting fixtures to the roughed in boxes etc. There you have it, you’ve converted a shed to a tiny house!

 

How Much Does It Cost To Convert A Shed Into A Tiny House?

cost to convert shed into house

Converting a shed will cost around $75 per square foot including the cost of the shed. Depending on the shed size, utility connections and fixtures/appliances. This assumes you’re buying a pre-built shed. It could be done more cheaply if you build the shed yourself (shed companies typically mark up 60% above material cost).

Example costs:

  • Shed: $3,500 to $10,000
  • Windows: $500-$6,000
  • Insulation: $500 to $2000
  • Interior finishes: $500-$4,000
  • Electrical: $750 to $3,000
  • Water heater: $500 to $1000
  • HVAC: $500 to $1,500
  • Toilet: $20-$800
  • Fixtures: $1,000-$5,000
  • Appliances: $400 to $4,000
  • Interior wall: $500 to $1000
  • Flooring: $300 to $1,000
  • Fasteners/Adhesives: $1,500
  • Paint: $50 to $200

Living In A Shed While Build Your House

living in a shed while building your house

Many people want to live in a shed while they are building the permeant house. I myself have considered this for building my home on the property I bought in the mountains. This again falls to the legality issue. Dwelling in a shed is often not allowed because how small it is.

Additionally, I’ve found that if you do this, the code enforcement staff will require everything you normally are required to having in a full house, jumping up the cost dramatically.

Ultimately, the real answer is yes and no. Legally no you can’t. Is it possible, totally!

How do I turn my shed into living space?

This is something I have a lot of experience with, tiny houses are working on the same scale as a converted shed. There are a few critical things you want to consider when converting a shed into a living space.

Top Ways To Turn A Shed Into A living Space

  1. Run power to the shed for lights, electronics & HVAC
  2. Choose a way to climate control – Heating & Cooling
  3. Seal cracks to control moisture and bugs
  4. Insulate and Drywall for a clean look
  5. Install a durable flooring option
  6. Use a light color pallet, good lighting and natural light

Shed Design Ideas And Tips

tips for desinging your shed home

There are a so many ways to take your living space in a shed to the next level. Many of them can be borrowed from tiny houses for design inspirations. Here are a few guides I’ve created to help you design the perfect shed to live in!

Small Bathrooms For A Shed

A bathroom is one of those spaces in a shed you have to get right, there is a lot going on between power, water, fixtures and storage. Check out my post on how to design a small space bathroom.

designing a bathroom for a shed

Kitchen Designs For A Shed

The kitchen is another critical area if you want to live in a shed. You don’t have a lot of room to pack a lot into a small space. When I designed my tiny house kitchen there was a lot that went into it. Learn more about small kitchen concepts and how to design them.

kitchens in a shed

Appliances For Small Sheds

One challenge I’ve found is getting appliances for small spaces. You can’t always go to the big box hardware stores and find an appliance that will fit in your shed’s kitchen. Choosing the right appliance for small kitchens is important, here’s how to choose the right one for you!

small space appliances

Consider Adding A Sleeping Loft In Your Shed House

A sleeping loft can add a lot of room in the ground floor if you’re tight on space. Sleeping lofts are pretty straight forward, but I figure out a few tricks to make them really well.

save space in a shed with a loft for your bed

Add Solar Panels To Your Shed

Solar is a great option if you can’t get power run to your shed. I’ve written several post about how to setup solar, so here are some great I wrote about how I did it on mine.

Setting Up Solar Guides

Converted Shed To Living Space Photos And Ideas

bedroom in a shed

shed living area

gambral roof shed converted to living space

living space in shed house

bedroom in converted shed home

kitchen and bedroom in a converted shed house for living

modern cozy shed home

cottage style shed converted into a living space

 

guest room in a shed

living space with sitting area in a shed

tiny bedroom in a shed

guest room and office space in a shed

guest room in converted shed

rustic shed conversion to live in

 


a Tiny House made from a shed

Living In A Shed In Your Backyard – Is It Right For You?

Converting a shed into a house or living space is something that a lot of people have done and it’s totally possible. They are a great way to have a house quickly and pretty affordably. So I wanted to ask you all what do you think of this idea? Do you think living in a shed is right for you? Is anyone here doing this?

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

Simple Greywater Systems For Your Home

What are grey water systems and how can you set up a system for your home?  Most people living in the average American household have no reason to contemplate disposal of the water that enters and leaves their homes, but more and more people are looking for a simple way to do a greywater system for their home.

simple grey water system for your home

What Is A Greywater System Used For?

A greywater system is used to take water that has already been used from places like your laundry, shower and sink and divert it to use in another purpose like watering gardens or landscaping instead of flushing it down into the sewer. Greywater is different from blackwater (aka sewage) because while it may have some residuals like dirt, hair, grease, etc from it’s first use, they aren’t toxic to the environment and the water can be reused in some applications.

what is grey water and how to recycle water

With greywater systems you are careful about what you put down your drain when diverting it to your garden or flower beds, but I’ve found that after your figure out some cleaning products that work for you, it’s quite simple.

How Do Grey Water Systems Work?

The concept is simple in principal: you want capture all the water from your sinks, showers and other drains into one place called a “surge tank” which is a fancy way of saying a tank that can take a lot of water at once and then slow down the flow. From there you want to allow the water to slow down just enough so any solids can settle out to the bottom and then let the cleaner water move on.

Grey Water System Diagram

In the below diagram you can see the basics of a system. You’ll see how the washer can be switched with a branched valve to either go to the sewer or the outside irrigation. The water then travels outside, into the garden and finally into drip points above mulch beds.

system diagram of a grey water system

Our Simple Greywater Setup For Our Tiny House

I certainly had never considered such things until Cedric and I went volunteering on organic farms. In the south of Spain a small olive farm where water is scarce and they were watering their flower garden with the water from their sinks and showers. It was the first time I’d ever seen a greywater system in action. As aquifers run dry and water becomes a scarcer resource, I see the proper recycling of it essential to transitioning our treatment of water to a more sustainable system and tiny house dwellers are on the front lines of this transition.

grey water in my garden

Living in a tiny house we have had to face the challenge of disposing our water safely since we weren’t hooked up to the city’s system. Our initial introduction at that farm inspired us to try a simple, DIY system that would use our greywater to irrigate a small garden.

We took 1 1/2″ pvc pipe, attached it to the plumbing of the house and buried it in the garden. Since we didn’t put in a filter we did not put any solids of any kind down the drain. We also carefully chose our bath soaps, used homemade shampoos and biodegradable dish soap so as not to damage the soil, plants or watershed. The PVC pipe was placed in a 2 foot deep ditch that had been lined with gravel and landscape fabric. Along the pipe we drilled many little holes to allow the water to escape. This technique is very similar to a french drain.

Are Grey Water Systems Legal?

is greywater legal

Depending on your city, county and state you’ll have different rules that govern the use of greywater systems. Building codes, zoning laws and the public health department all come into play here, so develop a rough idea of what kind of greywater system you want to build and then have a conversation with your local city hall. Alternatively you can do this under the radar, but understand you assume all risk.

In some cases you’ll need to install a branched drain system so you can turn the greywater on and off based on what your use is.

How Much Does A Greywater System Cost To Install?

grey water system install cost

Installing a greywater system depends on your needs, how your plumping is setup in your house and how much of the work you’re going to do yourself. For a rough estimate you can plan on spending $500 to $2,500 to install a greywater system in your home. Most of the cost will be labor as the materials are cheap, but the labor can be expensive. Often it requires a plumber which can run between $50-$150 per hour and then someone to run ditches to your beds which can cost between $20-$75 per hour.

Common materials are PVC pipes, gravel, landscape fabric, a capture tank and plumbing fittings.

How To Design Your Grey Water System

grey water system design

Here are some of the key steps to consider for your grey water system design:

  1. Locate all your main drain points and plan how you will tap into each
  2. Determine where you’re going to drain your system to
  3. Check that your drains are at least 5 feet higher than your destination
  4. Mark where you are going to bury your drain lines with spray paint
  5. Install a valve at each drain sources or at the main drain pipe
  6. Pipe from valves to exterior of home
  7. Dig ditches below your frost line
  8. Fill bottom with 6 inches of loose gravel
  9. Place your drain lines and perforated lines and check all connections
  10. Cover pipes with another 4 inches of loose gravel
  11. Cover gravel with landscape fabric to prevent dirt clogging lines.
  12. Replace dirt or carry the gravel all the way to surface (best method)

Best Filtering Options For Grey Water

grey water filter options

In some cases people will put a basic filter to screen out particles like food or hair mainly to prevent clogs in the rest of the system.Once the water is free of most of the larger debris, you can then pipe it underground to where you want to deposit it, making sure you spread out the volume of water over a large enough area to allow the soil to soak up the water quickly enough that it doesn’t get water logged.

You have a filter options:

  • Filter bag before it enters into surge tank
  • In line water filter
  • Settling tank
  • Constructed wetland or reed bed
  • Setting pond or bog

Here are my two favorite ways to filter out grey water

filter options for a grey water system

Tips For Your DIY Grey Water System

diy grey water systems

The biggest challenge people have when making their own system is getting your drain pipes clogged with food particles and hair from your drains. To combat that you want to employ two features in your system: a surge tank to settle out particles and a simple filter.

When the water from your drains comes from your house it’s carrying a lot of stuff like dirt, hair, skin cells, food particles and it’s moving pretty fast. We want to slow that water down and allow those things to settle out before moving on in the process. We don’t want that water to sit too long, no more than 24 hrs, but it’s a critical step.

From there we want to use a basic filter to grab any left over things that might be floating along. These don’t need to be a high grade filter that cleans the water, just enough to catch the particles big enough to clog things down the line.

The last tip I’ll give is make sure you consider how your drain lines will work in the winter. Freezing pipes can lead to major problems, so make sure your lines are draining to pipes buried below the frost line. You can consider putting in a valve at your branched piping inside so you can turn off this during the winter.

Grey Water Systems For Off Grid Living

grey water system for a off grid cabin

Grey water is the perfect solution for dealing with waste water at your off grid home, cabin or tiny house. I use this on my off grid tiny home into a modified french drain system since I don’t produce much water waste to begin with. Don’t forget to pair your system with a rain catchment system to collect more water for your garden.

The biggest tips I can give you is to make sure your soil drains well, you can do this by doing a simple perk test (a water infiltration test) on your soil. If you soil drains well, figure out about how many gallons of grey water you will produce in a given day and design the system to handle that plus a 25% margin.

Make sure you plan it so your drain lines are down hill from your point of use, digging ditches deeper and deeper if you need to get a steep slope for proper drainage. Having the water move away from your house is critical, so make plans to drain at least 30 feet away to avoid moisture issues.

I wouldn’t spend time trying to figure out how to treat the grey water or how to make it drinkable, it’s better to use it effciently at the source, then repurpose it into your gardens for food production.

My Favorite Grey Water Friendly Products

When you make the switch to grey water, you’ll need to control what goes down your drain and that includes things like soaps, shampoo, cleaners and more. Anything that goes down the drain needs to be environmentally safe when it hits your garden.

Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo

grey water shampoo

This was the hardest item to find for me, a lot of shampoos that are grey water friendly don’t clean that well. Many shampoos left my hair looking greasy, but this one cleaned well and didn’t smell too “earthy”. The smell is pretty neutral, a minty smell that could easily be used by men or women. It’s a little pricey, but it’s the only thing that I found that actually works.

Amazon is the only place I’ve been able to find this Aubrey Men’s Stock Shampoo.

 

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner's Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

This is an obvious and very popular option for those who want soap that is easy on the environment and just works well. Dr. Bronners is great for washing your hands, doing dishes, cleaning around the house, etc.

You can even bath with it and I found it to be good for body wash, but as I noted above, while it works for hair, it left my hair looking greasy. A lot of people use it as shampoo and it works well for them, so it’s worth a try. It’s also not terribly expensive and a little goes a long way.

This is where I get mine, click here.

Final Thoughts On Grey Water Systems

The majority of folks don’t think twice about these things and it’s wonderfully convenient to not have to. However, I’ve learned a lot about sustainable water practices by living with this system and I prefer it to sending this precious resource to a facility with black water where it becomes much more polluted and takes a lot of energy to introduce safely back in to the water cycle. It’s also a major plus for dry environments that see little rainfall and who at times must rely on their aquifers for water, as we experienced in Spain.

grey water system installed

To sustain and maintain these deep fonts of water we need to replenish them. Allowing greywater to be filtered by plants back in to the ground recharges the aquifers and keeps them from drying out. The beauty of greywater systems is they can be incredible simple to construct, use and maintain. The collaborative group Greywater Action For A Sustainable Water Culture is an incredible resource not only for learning to construct and maint these systems, they also have a wealth of information on composting toilets, rainwater catchment and pedal-powered washing machines!

As we prepare to move La Casita once again, we plan to build a more elaborate system that can withstand the Vermont winters. The Greywater Action website also has great reviews of projects and useful tips for winterizing these systems. In the South it was much easier to manage it and although it will be more of a challenge it is another opportunity to learn and create a regenerative system. I’ll be posting details of our next greywater project so check-in with the tiny life over the next few weeks to see the details of construction!

Your Turn!

  • Have any tips on water disposal in a tiny house?
  • How do you feel about the current disposal and treatment of water?
  • Do you think greywater systems are viable project towards changing how we think about water disposal?

How To Build A Chicken Coop

When you’re starting out with chickens you need to have a place to lock them up at night.  Building a chicken coop will be one of the first thing you need to do before you order your chicks or pick up some pullets (young hens).  I love how chickens just naturally gravitate to their little home when the sun starts to go down, roosting inside all on their own.

how to build a chicken coop for your chickens

The coop is an important part of your plan to keep your birds safe from predators that lurk in the night.  So we want it to be a sturdy structure that keeps the bad things out, the chickens in, provides a place for them to nest and lay their eggs.  First a few bits of terminology so you can get caught up to speed if you’re new.

  • Roost: a bar that chickens sit on and sleep on at night
  • Run: the fenced in area that chickens walk around during the day
  • Nesting Box: a separate area where hens sit to lay eggs in
  • Hardware Cloth: metal mesh that has very small openings
  • Bedding: saw dust, wood chips, hay or saw

So those are some of the basic terminology, now let’s get into some of the details.

The Coop

my chickens in my gardenYou can build the coop out of whatever building materials you have on hand or repurpose shelters to suit your needs.  When I built my coop I just went and bought a few sheets of plywood, created a box and sealed the entire inside.  Whatever you build it out of, the coop needs to be about 2 square feet of floor space for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

Height wise I usually build the coop so that I can easily clean it and room for at least 2 feet above the upper most roost.  If I have a lot of chickens I’ll make sure whatever it is, I can stand up straight if I need to go inside.

For the floors of my coop the biggest piece of advice is to make the inside as easy to clean as possible, really think ahead on this part.   I design mine so all the corners inside are not 90 degrees and no little nooks.  To do this I build my coop, then lay in a 2×2 cut at an angle so when I lay it in with glue all my corners are 45 degrees, which is much easier to clean.

Once I have my coop inside done I always sealed with a super heavy polyurethane. I coat every surface several times, making sure to soak it into the corners.  I put several layers on all surfaces then let it dry.  Next I focus on adding more layers to floor and the first foot of the walls.  You want a super thick layer of poly covering every inch of your floor and sealing every crevice and seam.

I let the whole thing dry and off gas for at least a few weeks.  If you build your coop before you even order your chicks, you’ll have a lot of time for all the fumes to escape by the time the chicks are grown up and ready to be put in the coop.

Roost Bars

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

The roost bars can be branches cut from your woods or a 2×4.  You want your roost to be about 2 inches wide and not metal if you can help it.  You want a flat level surface around 2 inches wide because chickens like to sleep flat footed.  They can grip if they need to though.

Ventilation

Many first time coop builders forget that coops need to breath, even if you live in very cold climates.  This is because their droppings put off a lot of moisture and ammonia, so you want a way for that to vent well.  You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of floor space in the coop.

Nesting Boxes

You want one nesting box for every 3-4 hens you have.  All a nesting box needs to be is a small more enclosed area roughly 1 cubic foot in size with some hay on the bottom.  I’ve done everything from milk crates to 5 gallon buckets on their side.  Just make sure you can easily get into the nesting box to grab the eggs as they are laid and they you can clean them easily.

Make sure you can see well into your nesting boxes because sometimes you find things other than hens in them.  Here is a black snake that snuck into my nesting box.  The joke was on him though, that egg was a plastic egg that we were using to teach the hens to use the nesting box.

snake in nesting box

A Chicken Door

This door only has to be about a single square foot, maybe a foot and a half tall so that a single chicken can come and go into the coop.  The door should be able to be closed up tight at night with a lock that raccoons or other critters can open.  Some people build in a sliding door that operates on a motor with a special sensor that closes when the sun goes down.

golden comet chicken

When I did my permanent coop I had it so the chicken door opened directly into a fenced in chicken run.  The run was covered too and the whole thing tied into the coop itself so that I didn’t have to be there each night to lock the door.  Even if you have your coop in a protected run like I did, its still good to have a door because sometimes you want to shut them up in coop for you to clean things or if a predator is spotted.

A Light

Many people put lights for some heat in the colder months.  Unless you are in a very cold part of the world, I wouldn’t suggest this.  Experience has shown me that if you put a light in a coop and then one night it gets broken or burns out, you’ll end up loosing all your chickens.  I live in North Carolina and for many parts of the US I wouldn’t worry about it.  For colder parts of the US, I’d just build a bigger coop so you can keep them inside for a week if you have to when it’s super cold.  Chickens are pretty hearty.

lights in a coop

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.

Chicken Tractors

Many people who want to get into chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.  As you can see above there are wheels on this tractor, I later switched them to larger wheels because some of the bumps and lumps in the grass would catch the edge of the coop or the wheels.

Consider where you’re going to store feed and how you’ll get water to them.  Where is the closet storage spot?  Where is the closet spigot and will your hose reach to the far corner of the yard?hens and a rooster

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Waters

There are three main types of water devices for chickens: Bell, nipple and standard waterer/fountain.  Larger operations tend to use the bell style, I don’t have much experience with those.  The older style of waterer or fountains work pretty well, but I’ve found they get dirty pretty easily.  That leaves my favorite type of waterer which is the nipple style.

chicken waterers

These are just a little valve with a shinny metal tab sticking out that the chickens peck at to get water.  Sometimes you need to show your chickens how to use them, I just take one or two of them and hold it right in front of the nipple.  Basically chickens see something shinny, peck at it and get wet.  Eventually they figure it out and the rest of the flock follows suit.

The nipples are cheap and can be installed into a 5 gallon bucket or into a run of pvc pipe.  This means I can do long runs of these that are tied into a water system so I can set it up for several days of water without any extra work.  An important side note is that you can’t uses these on chicks.

Feeders

There are several types of these, I still haven’t found a favorite type, so let me know what has worked for you in the comments.  I am looking for something that will feed the chickens easily for a few days automatically.  Right now the best option is a vertical PVC pipe about 6″ wide with a opening cut at the bottom.

So that’s some of the key things you need to work into your design when you build your own coop.  Let me know what you plan to do for yours in the comments!

Your Turn!

  • What kind of coop do you hope to build?
  • What tricks have you learned?

Building A Basic Electrical Kit

My sister is a new home owner and with it comes a lot of handy man projects that she and her husband have to figure out.  So I was called in to teach them how to install a new chandelier in the dining room.  As part of it I decided to put together a little kit for them to handle all the basic needs of a DIY homeowner when it comes to basic electrical work.

Things like changing lights, adding a fan, swapping a switch of plug all are done very easily and most people can figure out how to do it safely and successfully with a few basic tools and a little know-how.

Here’s What I Put In The Kit

 

First is the tools of the trade.  A good set of wire pliers and a box cutter.  I used to think it was silly to have a set of pliers just for wiring, but when I had to wire my own house I got a pair.  It was there I realized the value of these very specialized set of features.   I’ll often strip wires with the pliers themselves, but sometimes a good ole box cutter is needed.  The pliers ran me $15 (get yours here) and the box cutter was $5 (found here)

Next was electrical tape, I don’t skimp here and I always buy name brand.  Nothing special, but a must have supply to have on hand for any electrical work. You can get them here

wire tape

Next were wire nuts.  Often lights and fans come with some, but if you ever need to redo the connection, it’s best practice to use a fresh wire nut.  These are pretty basic, but I found a good deal on them here

wire nuts

Zip ties are just one of those things that you can’t have enough and they are amazing useful.  I just buy them in packs for cheap here

zip ties

Finally I included a small bit of 14 gauge wire which is good for low power draw items and things up to 15 amps.  For 20 amps I’d go a bigger wire, but for most uses this is fine.  Having some extra is great when you need to make a pig tail or extend a wire because you had to cut it kinda short and need some working room.

14 gauge wire for 15 amp

Finally I packed it up in a nice box for them as their gift.  electrical tools

If you want to learn more about doing your own electrical for your tiny house or even a big house, check out our guide to electrical, click here.

To Build Or Buy A Tiny House – Experts Share Their Advice

I sat down with the top tiny house experts to ask them a bunch of questions, today I am sharing their responses to the question: “What advice would you give to someone trying to figure out weather to build a tiny house or buy from a builder?” The question weather to strap on a tool belt and build your own tiny house or hire a tiny house builder is a tough one. Hopefully thoughts from those who’ve been there can help.

kristie-wolfe

Can you afford to buy? If not I’m certain you can acquire the skills to build!

steven-harrell

Focus your due diligence around money and time. Building yourself will cost less money and LOTS of time. Having one built for you will cost more money and much less time. Which is more important to you? Where does your gumption lean towards, spending time or money, saving time or money?

alek-lisefski

If building, ask for help and hire help for stuff like the electrical work at the very least. If buying, really do your homework on the builder you choose. There are so many new builders popping up each day and many are in it for the money and nothing else. Make sure you really get to know your builder and talk to people who they have built for in the past. If there are any red flags, find someone else.

ryan-mitchell

It really functions on budget and time.  I’m convinced that almost anyone can build a tiny house themselves with enough time and hard work.  A tiny house that is built by someone else is going to cost 2 to 3 times more than a DIY tiny house. Understand that when you hire a builder, they have to pay the wages of staff, tools, overhead, insurance etc.  If you do go with a builder, make sure you have a very solid contract in place.

dan-and-jess-sullivan

I would say, look at your reasons for doing this, and what kind of tiny house market is in your area. If it’s about simplifying your life and reconnecting, it could go either way, you could build or buy. If you are in a location like NC, where several tiny house companies provide some pretty great options, and you have the budget, then buy. If it’s about financial freedom, independence, self-reliance…I absolutely recommend you take on the build!

deek-diedricksen

IF you have the time, the space, and the knowledge that you WILL make mistakes along the way, and that the build will take AT LEAST twice as long as you think it will, do the DIY route- you’ll then have a chance to craft the house to your specific needs, and will addition know you home inside and out, when it comes to future fixes, tweaks, or needs.

ella-jenkins

Building one takes FOREVER. Like way longer than you think. And then longer than that. No, really (mine took me 13 months). But it is also extremely gratifying. Buying is of course more expensive and you typically get less opportunity to make changes along the way if you come up with new ideas, but it is faster and the logistics are someone else’s responsibility. If you’re physically unable (or unwilling), don’t have the time, or are the kind of person who has trouble finishing projects, buying is a great option.

ethan-waldman

Decide if you have 800+ hours to devote to building your own tiny house, and also decide whether your body can handle 800 hours of hard labor.

gabirella-morrisson

Time is money. If you don’t currently have employment and have a lot of free time and the desire to DYI, then a self build is a no-brainer. The decision becomes murkier if you do have a paying job because your time away from your work will obviously mean a decrease in pay assuming all other aspects remain the same.

jenna-spesard

Consider the time, money and resources it takes to build a Tiny House versus buy one. It’s a commitment, and you need to be passionate.

laura-lavoie

Make sure everyone is on board before you start. If you have a partner who is uncertain about tiny living, you need to have a longer conversation about it. If you think you can “convince” someone to live tiny, you can’t.

macy-miller

DIY, you are capable even though you may not feel that way. You can learn the things you don’t know. You don’t have to know how to do everything, just know how to find answers.

kent-griswold

Take a class or work with someone to get an idea of what construction is all about. This is a house and it needs to be built correctly and if you don’t have the skills it is better to hire someone who has them.

andrew-odom

Would you put your mom in a house that you built? Would it be safe enough for even your mother? If not, buy one that is.

 

A very special thanks to the folks who participated:

Your Turn!

  • What tipped you in favor or building or buying?